I cannot talk about my childhood without mentioning the big boys that we looked up to. Some were simply awesome, but some were outright bullies, but they all affected us in so many ways. I have picked a few to write about. They lived in different parts of the Nkomponi, which I would like to think they represented. I am not mentioning their names.
1. The Professor
This guy was a legend. Once, we heard that he had revived an unconscious bird. It had a broken wing, we were told. The professor somehow fixed it with a homemade bandage, blew air over the bird and off it flew! I remember when he came up to me and asked, rather abruptly, “Can sound travel in water?” I felt like Dr. Watson under the piercing gaze of Sherlock Holmes. I was the very best student at Cement Primary School, and here I was being quizzed by the legendary Professor. After a long pause, he answered his own question: “It does because sound waves can travel in water.” He pulled a dimpled smirk as he turned and disappeared in the shadows. I was in awe. No wonder his kite always flew high above everyone else’s, and he didn’t even run with it like we did. He simply tied it to the tower light and, when you looked up at yours, you saw his higher up in the sky.
2. da Vinci
Da Vinci did everything. And he was good at everything. He made toy wire cars. Once, he made a battery powered one. I have never seen anyone do that! And then, he was great at hunting sparrows – little birds we caught for food. On a good day, I would catch about 8 birds. On his good day, he would catch 150. I know because I’m the one who carried the birds sometimes. And then he made everything else: little shadow cinemas using fire, cardboard figures and plastic screens; swings using old car tires; an arrow rifle for the Impi game (he must have been the only person who had a functioning one). And then also, he was an artist. He drew very well. One day, I took a peak on what he had drawn – it was a naked person! I was good at drawing myself, and I wanted to emulate my hero. I found a white piece of paper and a pencil, and tried to draw a naked person. After a half-hearted outline and long stares, I gave up. I must have been 10 or so. I just didn’t have the guts to be da Vinci.
3. The Joker
The Joker was a bully. He loved getting little kids to fight and his was the most effective way to do that. “Fight right now or I’ll beat you up!” What fun he had watching little boys fight! Normally, older boys had their little boys – the kids they looked out for. The Joker had none. Every kid was a target of his insatiable need to see little boys terrified. And he did all this while having fun! He was standing there laughing, watching little boys fight. And how crafty he was! One day, he somehow got hold of a local guard dog and placed it under his command (how did he do that!!?) He took it to one of our playgrounds where decided to play the game Cops-and-Thieves with my older brother. Of course he was the policeman. I still remember his annoying laugh as he let loose the dog on the escaping thief – my poor brother. And once, my mom bought these nice white T-shirt and short sets for my younger brother and me. We wore them proudly until The Joker started calling us “The Boys Who Wear Pyjamas.” I cannot forget his annoying laugh.
4. A.J. and J.R.
I just chose those ‘names’ because they sound cool. AJ and JR were cool, and not least because they were masters at making wire cars. ENkompon’, that skill came with a big reputation. Once, they took their mastery of the craft to a whole new level – they made two rather unusually large toy lorries out of the toughest wire we knew. WIRE CAR LEVEL: Insane. They brought the lorries to us – my cousin and me. Somehow, they had heard that our BBL 9999 Brickgame video games had sticky buttons. Being tricksters, they offered to lend us the lorries while they fixed our video games. “We’ll just dunk the button pad in boiling water and then put it back. We’ve done it before. It’ll be as good as new,” AJ explained. He sounded as smart as The Professor. Only he sounded cooler. Of course, we never saw our video games again. AJ and JR had struck. They also did other ‘cool’ things, such as pretending they owned sweet-stalk fields and sending unsuspecting little boys to help them harvest ‘their crop.’ What a duo!
These and other characters colored our childhoods in many ways. These big boys were our leaders, and we were mesmerized followers. We enjoyed our roles as followers. But sometimes being followers wasn’t so good for us. I have a permanent scar on my forehead as proof. I’ll tell you more about that next time.